Retiring senior associate director leaves legacy of dedication and service to UI Hospitals & Clinics
John H. Staley is nearing retirement, marking the end of a 45-year career with UI Hospitals & Clinics. He has held a number of key administrative leadership roles, and he is highly regarded across the university and throughout the state as an outstanding leader, collaborator, and role model for the organization.
All UI Health Care faculty, staff, students, and volunteers are invited to attend a reception honoring him from 2 to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 29, in the Clasen Board Room (Elevator H, Level 1). Remarks will begin at 2:30 p.m.
John Staley, or “Mr. Staley,” as he is known to so many of us, has accomplished something highly unlikely to be repeated—a 45-year career in administration of University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics—and he did it with a grace and respect for others that has endeared him to colleagues throughout UI Health Care, the university, and state of Iowa.
Although it torments his humble nature, superlatives from Staley’s colleagues illustrate the tremendous respect they have for his style of servant leadership and his tremendous contributions to UI Hospitals & Clinics. Phrases like:
“…tireless worker always focused on accomplishing the institutional mission without worrying about how much credit he personally receives…”
“…never any challenge too great, nor undertaking that was beneath him, as long as he knew it would be good for the organization, patients, and families.”
“…an invaluable ‘institutional Methuselah’ deeply devoted to the care of Iowans and to University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics.”
“…the ‘backbone’ of UI Hospitals & Clinics.”
“…has been and will always be a ‘beloved icon’…”
Brooks Jackson, MD, MBA, vice president for medical affairs and dean of the UI Carver College of Medicine, notes, “Although I have not known John very long, it is clear that his dedication to the mission of UI Hospitals & Clinics and the people of Iowa; leadership skills; and longevity have all combined to help the institution become the nationally recognized medical center it is today.”
A lifetime career in health care is not what a 22-year-old Staley had in mind when he graduated with a degree in economics in 1966 from Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa. He was headed to graduate school at the UI, planning eventually to go into business, banking, or law. Fortunately, a twist of fate led him into a lifelong career at UI Hospitals & Clinics, which has benefitted millions of patients and staff members and provided him with hundreds of great stories and fond memories.
Staley got the “health care bug” as a graduate student working as a research assistant in the economics section of the Iowa Regional Medical Program from 1967 to 1969.
“That took me to Des Moines and working with many different health care agencies; it was very interesting, and the people I met were doing fascinating work. That’s how I got interested in hospitals and health care,” he recalls.
This led Staley to pursue a PhD degree in hospital and health administration under the direction of a legendary figure, Gerhard Hartman.
“Dr. Hartman was also the director of UI Hospital, so as students we were very lucky—he would assign us to actual hospital projects,” Staley notes.
At the time, the Vietnam War draft was an issue for young men, and John’s service to his country began as a U.S. Army ROTC cadet and then Medical Service Corps officer with an assignment in San Antonio, Texas, where he was a teaching and research assistant at the U.S. Army’s program in health care administration at Baylor University.
Returning to Iowa in 1973, Staley finished his PhD degree at the UI. As a student, he was recommended by Dr. Hartman for a position as administrative assistant for François Abboud, MD.
“He (Abboud) was applying for a large grant to establish the cardiovascular research center and needed administrative assistance, which was my assignment, along with another graduate student, working in a small office in the Gothic Tower,” Staley says.
His success on that project and a strong recommendation from Hartman earned Staley his first staff position at UI Hospitals & Clinics with Director John W. Colloton, a relationship that would have one of the strongest influences on Staley’s professional life.
Landing that first position in 1974 as the assistant director for patient relations and support services was the beginning of Staley’s long and exemplary career at UI Hospitals & Clinics, which included serving as senior associate director for more than 15 years; chief operating officer twice for a total of 14 years; and interim chief executive officer for 13 months during 2003 and 2004. In his tenure, Staley worked for five different hospital leaders, including current CEO Suresh Gunasekaran.
Behind the “titles,” Staley has influenced almost every aspect of UI Hospitals & Clinics, including capital management, professional and support services, clinical services, safety and security, emergency preparedness, crisis management and intervention, and large-scale project management.
Although there are far too many initiatives, programs, and projects to list in detail, some of the work Staley will be most remembered for includes:
Capital replacement program
During the capital replacement program, which began in the early 1970s and continued through the early 2000s, more than $550 million of new clinical resources and state-of-the-art medical technology was constructed and acquired. It brought to fruition the vision of former hospital director Colloton to build a modern, contemporary teaching hospital serving Iowans and others from all economic walks of life.
Bruce Gantz, chair and departmental executive officer of the Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, recalls, “John is one of few remaining individuals who worked hand-in-hand with John Colloton as three pavilions and the Pomerantz building were added to the footprint. John was very supportive and helpful as the department transitioned from its original location on the second floor of General Hospital to the Pomerantz Family Pavilion in 2000. John and I worked very closely for over two years of planning and building. He was one who helped figure out how we execute our plans without road blocks.”
Jean Robillard, former vice president for medical affairs and dean of the UI Carver College of Medicine, remembers, “John has helped so many of us to not repeat errors of the past, while always bringing new and very well thought out solutions. I remember in 2008 during the flood, because the Cedar River went over its banks and completely flooded I-80, John came with the idea of having an air taxi between Burlington and Iowa City to allow our nurses and staff who lived on the east side of the Cedar River to be able to come to work without having to drive down to Keokuk to cross that river.”
Former UI Hospitals & Clinics CEO Ken Kates notes, “Most worthy of special recognition is the UI Hospitals & Clinics’ emergency preparedness program, developed by John and implemented by him and his team, which has been recognized numerous times as the model emergency preparedness program for academic medical centers nationally. Having personally been involved in situations requiring utilization of this program, I can attest to its importance and excellence. It goes without saying how critical it is to have such a program in place for the safety of patients, families, and staff.”
In addition to working as a hospital administrator, Staley also teaches. He has had faculty appointments in the Graduate Program in Hospital and Health Administration (1977–1999) and the Department of Health Management and Policy in the UI College of Public Health since 1999, sharing his extensive knowledge with graduate students aspiring to careers in health care administration. He is also the author of many publications and study documents, and he has provided countless presentations.
He is a fellow, since 2006, of the American College of Healthcare Executives, and in 2017, he attained Life Member status in the American Hospital Association (AHA). In the 1990s, his knowledge of the growing field of hospital dentistry field lead to his appointment as the AHA liaison to the American Dental Association’s Council on Access, Prevention, and Interprofessional Relations from 1991–1997. He has also been a member of and held leadership positions in many other university, local, state, and national organizations throughout his career. In the community, he has been a member of the A.M. Rotary Club of Iowa City; board of directors of the United Presbyterian Home; the Iowa City Airport Commission; and chair of the Health Care Committee of the Chamber of Commerce.
Offering perhaps the most concise picture of Staley’s tenure at UI Hospitals & Clinics, Colloton observes:
“John Staley is served by a strong set of personal values: He honored and respected all persons; he habitually strove for excellence; he never lost sight of the fundamental missions of UI Hospitals & Clinics; he maintained integrity and a sense of humor throughout his career; and finally, he adhered to this admonition from Charles Darwin, author of the Theory of Evolution: ‘It is not the strongest who survive…rather it is those who are most responsive to change.’
“It is obvious to his colleagues that John Staley has lived all of these values during his long and prolific professional career. Those of us in the UI Hospitals & Clinics family, the patients we serve, and the institution to which we are all devoted have been the beneficiaries!”
Q&A: Staley reflects on his career and shares his plans for the future
How has UI Hospitals & Clinics changed since you began your career here in 1974?
“Well, first of all, we were a much smaller place back when I started. Both the number of staff members and the number of buildings. North Tower was under construction when I started my administrative assistant role with Dr. Abboud, and my first introduction to capital development was serving on the team to plan and execute the move for all the staff and departments who were moving into the new tower from areas in General Hospital. (The North Tower was named Boyd Tower in 1981 in honor of University of Iowa President Sandy Boyd and his wife, Susan.)
“By then, Mr. Colloton’s capital replacement program had been approved by the Regents, and we began years of developing new patient care and support facilities, with Carver Pavilion first, then Colloton Pavilion, Pappajohn Pavilion, and finally Pomerantz Family Pavilion—all of which I was involved in.
“As administrators in those early years, we had many departments in our span of control with staff reporting directly to us. As our clinical services and operations have grown, so too has the staff. I think we had about 3,000 staff members, including physicians, residents, and fellows, in the early ’70s—now, there are over 10,000.
“Over 45 years, everything has changed so much and we have adapted to it all—new technology, like MRI and PET scanners; new procedures, including a full range of solid organ transplantation and bone marrow procedures; many non-invasive procedures; patient and family expectations for accommodations, like single rooms, and visitors “rooming in” and for their care, like expansion of offsite primary care clinics; updated safety requirements and building codes; and so much more. The ‘business of health care’ has also gotten much more complicated over the years, with attempts to control health care costs and ensure access to care.”
You served as interim CEO for about 13 months between 2003 and 2004. Did you ever want to have the job permanently?
“No. I never seriously considered it because I liked working in operations. I loved the day-to-day nature of my work as the COO, working in so many areas throughout the hospital and planning for new areas. It was really a lot more ‘hands on’ than being the CEO.”
Who were the people who had the biggest impact on your career?
“Gerhard Hartman and John Colloton were the two biggest influences. John was a fantastic teacher and very highly regarded nationally as a hospital administrator. Dr. Robert Petersdorf, when he was president of the Association of American Medical Colleges, called him ‘arguably the most effective hospital chief executive of his era.’ So, I was very lucky to have worked with him and absorb everything I could.
“I have learned something from everyone I’ve worked with, especially some of the others who served on the administration team through the years as CEOs, COOs, and other leadership positions. Many of them came and then went on to other positions, but several of us, like Mr. Colloton, Ken Yerington (finance), Bob Rasley (human resources), Doug Williamson (general administration), Bill Stoddard (business office), and Bill Hesson (legal) made their careers with UI Hospitals & Clinics.”
“There has been so much that I have been a part of in the past 45 years, I would not want to pick one thing above others that I am most proud of. What I am most proud of is the opportunity I have had to work with so many wonderful, talented faculty and staff constantly improving our services for patients, families, and staff.
“I am also proud of the work I was able to do outside UI Hospitals & Clinics to influence health care for Iowans and others, like with the Iowa Hospital Association, American Hospital Association, and American College of Healthcare Executives.”
“I am looking forward to spending more time with my wife, Sally, and sons, Ken and Tom—especially up at our cottage on the Cedar River in Nashua, my hometown. I’ve also had an annual fishing trip to Canada with some friends that I plan to continue, and I want to do some more fly fishing in Colorado.
“I have some projects that I look forward to working on, and Sally and I do plan to stay in Iowa City, with an annual escape to Florida in the winter months.”